Know Your Plastic: 4 Lessons

After Kyra turned six this summer, she started telling me that she’s going to be sixteen soon.  She flexes her independence by digging through the refrigerator or freezer and making her own meals and pouring her own drinks.  The few inches she gained in recent months allow her to reach the microwave or toaster.  One day, I even caught her sneaking some juice off the top of the fridge!

“Look Mommee!  I can reach things,” she says while pushing random buttons on the microwave.

This could be good and bad, I thought, as she hit the start button. “Kyra never stand that close to the microwave,” I tell her as I move her back a few feet.

Inside the microwave, a plastic plate spins.  I hit “stop” and tell Kyra, “Never microwave anything that is plastic.”

“Why?” she asks.

I realize that some plastic are microwave-safe, but for Kyra’s first lesson in plastics, I’d rather take the conservative approach.  As Urvashi Rangan, PhD, technical policy director at the Consumers Union, states “We know that heat degrades any plastic over time.”

Lesson 1:  Toss 3, 6, 7 types of plastic.

On the bottom of most plastic, there’s a recycling symbol with a number between 1 and 7 indicating the type of plastic and chemicals that might leach from them.   I decide to turn this into a sorting exercise and ask the kids to help me toss all our plastics with the number 3 and 6 and 7, which are plastics that contain harmful chemicals like BPA and phthalates.

BPA acts like estrogen and disrupts hormone and reproductive functions in animals.  The National Toxicology Program found that BPA can cause breast cancer, early puberty development, learning disorders, and prostate cancer.  Check out FDA’s BPA Information for Parents.

Phthalates are often found in children’s toys or vinyl shower curtains.  They disrupt the endocrine system and have caused malformations in the male reproductive system in animals.  Research in humans has shown an association between high phthalate exposure and low sperm quality, high waist circumference and insulin resistance.

Lesson Two:  Toss single-use plastic.

Every day, my kids insist on drinking from Lightning McQueen Take and Toss Sippy Cups.  I had no idea that my indulgence for their favorite cup could actually be hazardous to their health.  Single-use plastics breaks down over time and aren’t designed to withstand heating and cooling.  So in our sorting exercise, I will ask the kids to toss any plastic with the number 1 and takeout containers and anything that looks like it’s meant for single-use.

Lesson Three:  Wash by hand.

By now, I’m feeling like a bad mom.  I’ve never checked to make sure that the plastics I place in the dishwasher are labeled dishwasher safe.  Apparently in the dishwasher, plastics are exposed to heat and detergents that may accelerate the leaching of chemicals like BPA.

Lesson Four:  Don’t panic.

Bryan Walsh writes in a Time Magazine’s The Truth About Plastics, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 92% of Americans age 6 or older test positive for BPA — a sign of just how common the chemical is in our plastic universe.” I start to panic.  Maybe, it’s too late.  We’ve all been exposed to BPA and phthalates.

Fortunately, my husband pointed out a report that showed how many things in our life like smoking, poor diet, and driving a car, pose a higher risk than exposure to plastics.  Still, it’s important to educate yourself about plastic.  Weigh government resources like NIH’s Tox Town against The American Chemistry Council which busts myths  and provides guidelines on how to recycle.


The Kid/Mom/iPhone Love/Hate Triangle

My girlfriend, Mary, complains that in the middle of the night, she often finds her four-year-old son, Noah, tucked in bed with a tub of ice cream in one hand and her iTouch in the other.  “Oh, how adorable,” we both say.  I beg her for a photo of that scene and we laugh about how clever our kids are these days.

But after fireweed popped up in my yard, I started to worry whether this cleverness was going to kick me in the butt once school started.  This summer, my kids lost interest in the hundreds of educational and game apps my husband and I loaded up for them on our iPhones.

At first, I was impressed that Kyra would rather write sentences with the notepad app on my iPhone than play Angry Birds.  Her notes sprouted loving things like, “My Mommy is the best” or cryptic messages like “Ethan lost.”  Maybe, I even encouraged it.

At dinner, she often tried creative writing.  Here’s a poem she wrote on her own when I was dining with a group of writers.

New Moose is getting in bed.
New Moose is going to school.
New Moose is doing a job.

“See, I’m writing,” Kyra would say, “Like you.”  And my friends noted how smart my child was and that I must be so proud.

Even, Ethan, who just turned three, wowed me with photos or videos that he figured out how to capture with my old iPhone.  It was interesting to see what caught his eye and how he saw the world from his height.  One time, we lost his favorite toy and we were able to scroll through his photos to see when he had it last.

Lately, however, updating or syncing our iPhones with our computers often fails probably due to the hundreds of photos and videos Ethan’s racked up and I haven’t had time to delete.

Then one day, Kyra managed to hide all my main apps like phone, text messaging, email, iPod, and browser into random folders that she created and labeled with proper names like “Games” or “Kyra” or “Ethan.”

Fortunately, she did not delete them, but that could easily happen next.  I realize that I should deprive them of iPhone privileges all together or purchase a Leapster or some kind of toy that offers similar technologies.  So far, I haven’t and I’m wondering why.

With school starting, I know I’m going to have weak moments when I’m driving the kids home from school and their they are tired and hyper and screaming and then I’ll I hand them my iPhones (yes, my old one and new one) to get a few moments of peace.

Or maybe, unable to find a babysitter, I take them along with me to some work meeting and have to depend on that iPhone to keep them entertained.

Plus, I’m embarrassed to admit that the geeky side of me wants to know how rapidly they can pick up on technologies.  Already, my daughter knows how to manipulate the avatars in the apps faster than I do.  She consistently finishes games that I have trouble mastering.  And I love that she tries to spell and write sentences and construct stories.  Isn’t that advancing her learning capabilities?

Finally, I actually do appreciate that she has the time to organize my apps when I never seem to get around to that task.

What’s your excuse for letting your kids play with your gadgets?

Three Tips for Taking Young Kids Fishing

Balancing our heavy five-foot-diameter dipnet on my right shoulder, I plunged one foot at a time into the gooey mudflat.  It was low tide at the mouth of the Kenai River and the mudflats had already killed Ethan’s talking Finn McMissile and petered out Thomas.

Every step was a gamble.  I could fall flat on my face or sink so deep that I got stuck.  As I plunged into the ocean with all my strength, the net whipped in the current and nearly knocked me over.  Licking my lips, I tasted the spray of saltwater, the thrill of not knowing what was going to happen next.

The icy waters cooled my feverish excitement of being an Alaskan as I fought my net and tried to tame it against my ribs.  To my right in one deft move, a neighbor knocked a salmon out with his club and hung it on a string tied to his waist.

It was our third year dipnetting and still I felt like a novice.  Here are three tips that made this year’s fishing easier.

  1. Bring the proper gear:  The shore is often littered with fish guts, seagull droppings, and puddles that kids can’t resist touching.  Last year, Kyra and Ethan were drenched and miserably cold five minutes after we started fishing.  So this year, I invested in waterproof jackets, pants, and gloves.  Check the label and make sure that it states the product is 100% waterproof and not just water-resistant.

    Bog boots or something comparable that stays warm down to -30° F keeps socks dry, toes warm, and shoes on! (My kids love any excuse to go barefoot.) Those easy-on pull handles also saved Ethan’s boot several times when it got stuck in the mudflats.

    Kid-sized camping chairs surprisingly act like an invisible leash.  Last year, Kyra and Ethan couldn’t climb into the adult-sized chairs easily, so they drifted and complained that they were tired, and eventually buried themselves in the wet sand.  We didn’t even bother bringing adult-sized chairs this year because we could squeeze our bottoms into their chairs if we really needed to rest.

    Finally, it’s all about the toys and snacks.  Supply them with easy snacks that they can open and dispose on their own and make sure they eat first before they start playing.  Check their pockets and make sure that they don’t sneak their favorite toy down to the beach.  They each have a set of waterproof beach safe toys that they only get to play with when we go fishing.

  2. Engage your sidekick:  There’s something about the title “sidekick” that my kids love.  Maybe, it’s because lately Batman and Robin are their favorite bad guy fighting pair.  Or maybe, at this age, they want to feel like a member of the team.

    Kyra and Ethan help me entangle two fish from the net.

    Ethan was frustrated that he couldn’t fish and I had to keep a close eye on him because he kept trying to walk into the ocean like Dad.  His hands would get caked with mud and he would start to wail.  I asked Kyra to get a bucket of water to wash his hands and this evolved into their job.  They never tired of lugging buckets of water to our side so that we could clean tools or fish.

    Although Kyra can’t wait to cut fish, I told her she could start by helping me to vacuum seal them.  She took this job very seriously and knocked aside my hands if I hovered.

  3. Create teachable moments:  The Alaska Sport Fishing Regulations guide came in handy when Thomas cleaned the salmon.   I taught Kyra about the five different salmon species found in Alaska and asked her to identify each salmon. She then tried to teach Ethan who was much more interested in swatting away the flies.

    With Ethan, I also played the “I spy with my little eye” game to review his numbers, colors, and alphabet.  But unlike his sister, Ethan runs away if he thinks he’s being tested or educated.

What lessons have you learned about fishing with young kids?